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Iran travel sector: Ups and downs since U.S. reimposed sanctions

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Last November, the Trump administration reinstated sanctions on Iran, mainly the ones that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal, in order to batter Iran’s economy, however, according to official data, they have so far failed to lessen foreign arrivals to the Islamic Republic.

Although the sanctions together with anti-Iran propaganda campaigns have decreased Western tourists but the country has managed to compensate and even improve by doing its best to attract more from neighboring states.

When it comes to outbound tourism, the effect of sanctions are seemingly more obvious as sharp rises in the value of foreign currencies against rial have pushed up the costs of traveling in the country.

A total of 1,759,749 Iranians traveled abroad in the first quarter of the current Iranian calendar year (March 21-June 21), indicating a 6.5% decrease compared with 1,882,414 outbound tourists in the same period last year, financialtribune.com reported in an article released on Monday.

“Nearly 7.8 million foreign nationals visited Iran over the past year that shows a 52.5 percent increase year on year. The country hosted 5.1 million travelers in 1396 (March 2017-18),” deputy tourism chief Vali Teymouri said in April.

“One of the shortcomings in Iran’s tourism industry is the government’s issuance of work permits to travel agencies without taking into consideration the number of inbound and outbound tourists. Less than 5% of travel agencies in Iran are active in organizing inbound tours, whereas 95% of them have focused on outbound tourism,” Hormatollah Rafiei, the head of Travel Agents Guild Association, said.

To tackle such harms, the association has decided to set up a committee tasked with curtailing the number of travel agencies’ closure by channeling them toward conducting more inbound tours.

“In two months, between 30 and 50 agencies are going to direct their activities toward attracting tourists from 10 countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Armenia and China,” Rafiei added.

Regarding to the downfall of potential Western visitors, Skift Inc., a New York City headquartered media company that provides news, research, and marketing services for the travel industry, said in July article that “Despite setbacks, [international] tour operators are optimistic about long-term growth in tourism to Iran, which in recent years has stepped up efforts to increase international visitation and has the stated goal of attracting 20 million annual visitors by 2025.

While the U.S. State Department has long issued strong advisories against traveling to Iran and despite tensions between the two countries, tour operators who spoke with Skift strongly disagree, maintaining that Iran has proven to be a safe and remarkably hospitable place for travelers, including Americans.

“It is a country that is often portrayed as unwelcoming, but the reality is quite the opposite,” said Jenny Gray, the global product and operations manager of the Australia-based Intrepid Travel.

“Iranians are warm, friendly and eager to show off their country to foreigners. The feedback from our travelers is a testament to this.”

“Once they [Iranian authorities] have been approved for entry [issuing visas], people are welcomed warmly—we’ve never encountered a problem or even a cold shoulder,” said Robin Pollak, the president of Journeys International, which is offering Iran tours since 2015.

“People in Iran are very curious about visitors from a culture that is off-limits to them. They understand that American visitors do not reflect the way America is portrayed to them by their government,” she added.

To compensate the fall, Iran has turned to ease traveling for its target markets which are people from Iraq, China, Republic of Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, and several other countries who arrive in Iran for medical, pilgrimage and cultural heritage purposes.

Some two million Iraqi nationals visited Iran during the first seven months of the past Iranian calendar year (ended on March 20), constituting Iran’s largest source of inbound passengers.

Mousa Tabatabai, assistant to Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad, told Al-Monitor in early July, “The number of Iraqis arriving in Iran for religious tourism and treatment is growing bigger on a yearly basis. This is added to those who travel to Iran to see their relatives. The visas are issued depending on the demand.”

“There are 2-3 million Iraqis arriving in Iran every year. Such a figure will more likely increase as the visas have become free of charge between the two countries,” Tabatabai explained.

Iran also eyes to have a bigger share of Chinese tourism, as it, in a unilateral measure, recently approved to waive the visa requirement for the Chinese passport holders.

To encourage and reassure sightseers, the Iranian government has decided not to stamp the passports of foreign tourists to help them skip the U.S. travel ban.

“President Hassan Rouhani assigned the airport police not to stamp passports of foreign tourists. Taking into consideration the fact that America is practicing the economic terrorism plans, and people who travel to Iran may feel a bit afraid that they may be pressured by America,” Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said earlier this month. He added that this can invite more tourists to Iran.

The World Travel & Tourism Council’s latest report indicates that Iraq was the main source of tourism for Iran in 2018, as Iraqis constituted 24% of all inbound visitors. Other major sources were Azerbaijan (17%), Turkey (8%), Pakistan (4%) and Bahrain (2%). The remaining 46% came from the rest of the world.

WTTC’s review of tourism spending in Iran in 2018 shows 93% of visitors spent for leisure purposes while only 7% spent on business purposes. The council ranked Iran 20th from among 185 countries in its 2017 power ranking, which evaluates countries in terms of absolute size growth measured in U.S. dollars in the field of travel and tourism.

The 2019 Travel Risk Map, which shows the risk level around the world, puts Iran among countries with “insignificant risk”, a category where the UK, Denmark, Switzerland, Norway, and Finland are placed in.

The country boasts hundreds of historical sites such as bazaars, museums, mosques, bridges, bathhouses, madrasas, mausoleums, churches, towers, and mansions, of which 22 being inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Currently, Iran’s constant efforts to recover the value of Iranian rial against the U.S. dollar have paid off. The national currency is strengthened about eight percent in the open market over the past month to 125,450 per dollar, traders in Tehran, according to prices compiled by Bloomberg from foreign-exchange websites.

Travel associates see better prospects for tourism sector of the country as policies for shielding the currency against the U.S. sanctions are taking effect.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Economy

Scaling up support for sustainable development: Mongolia on the rise

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

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Mongolia’s economic rebound in recent years reveals a country rising up to the challenges borne from adverse economic shocks. The country’s economic resilience comes as no surprise. Mongolia has responded well to near-term economic challenges and chartered its long-term path towards sustainable development despite its inherent constraints as a small and landlocked economy that is also highly dependent on natural resources. Mongolia prides itself as being one of the first countries to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with Mongolia’s Sustainable Development Vision 2030 receiving parliament approval in 2016 just six months after the adoption of the SDGs globally.

In particular, Mongolia’s policy experiences in areas of economic diversification, good governance and regional cooperation were well-exemplified by the Action Program of the Government of Mongolia for 2016-2020. So, Mongolia has utilized these policy tools to carve for itself strategic positions to weigh in on issues significant to the country’s national development outcomes. For example, Mongolia leads the global agenda of the needs and challenges faced by landlocked developing countries (LLDCs). The presence of the International Think Tank for LLDCs in Ulaanbaatar further highlights the key role of Mongolia as a credible broker of the LLDCs development agenda.

Mongolia has been active in implementing intergovernmental initiatives facilitated by UN ESCAP including the distinct but interrelated intergovernmental agreements on the Asian Highway Network, the Trans-Asian Railway Network, and Dry Ports. We welcome the recent development on the entry into force of the Intergovernmental Agreement on International Road Transport along the Asian Highway Network among China, Mongolia and the Russian Federation, supporting trilateral economic cooperation.

Currently, Mongolia has substantively engaged on trade facilitation initiatives including the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific. There is great potential for Mongolia to strengthen its role in the related area of transport facilitation, given its position as a transit point between big economies like China and the Russian Federation. Also, we are pleased that Mongolia is soon to become the seventh member of the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement, a preferential regional trade agreement, open to all developing member States in Asia and the Pacific.

Mongolia has also been a key driving force to advance cooperation for clean energy, especially towards a North-East Asia power interconnection, leveraging from the country’s abundant renewable (solar and wind) energy resources. Energy cooperation finds strong resonance in relation to climate action and air pollution, given the North-East Asia subregion emits over one-third of global greenhouse gases and faces heavy impacts of air pollution.

With inherent constraints due to its fragile economic structure and environmental condition, Mongolia constantly needs to find balance between providing prompt policy responses in the face of volatile and unpredictable external shocks in the short-run and pursuing structural changes to address long-term socioeconomic issues. Under these circumstances, pursuing an integrated approach becomes an imperative for Mongolia to advance its national socioeconomic agenda, regional connectivity agenda and global sustainable development agenda, bolstering Mongolia’s resilience towards adverse economic, social and environmental shocks. To this end, I welcome Mongolia’s emphasis on the “whole of government” plus a “whole of society” approach.

Through the years, we have seen how Mongolia continues to be a steadfast partner of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in promoting regional trade, connectivity and development across its various interrelated dimensions. Mongolia has also provided leadership in advancing regional cooperation agenda in the Asia-Pacific region by chairing the seventy-fifth session of UN ESCAP in May 2019.

Equipped with lessons learned from past development challenges and mindful of new directions and approaches to nurture future opportunities, Mongolia’s regional position and potential are on the rise. I am looking forward to partnering with Mongolia’s leadership to strengthen regional cooperation and achieve sustainable development by 2030 with the United Nations family.

Originally published in Montsame-Mongolia

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Economy

The Election Agenda

Naseem Javed

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Akin to the last Big Collapse, currently, the gatekeepers of the world economy are in deep silence as the new date of the next global financial collapse is being figured out. The Brexit, the EU, any new pending war, the US Elections or some new unknown issues are all single push buttons for a global crisis. However, some smart nations are awakening; the silent majority is slowly talking, and here assisting them expediently are the attempts on the global-age skills and lifelong learning to enable them to build their own respectable future. The other options for the world are to simply wait for an unfathomable chaos while listening to the restless citizenry. It’s time to vote, it’s time for asking the difficult questions.

Why Stop Trade-Wars Start Skills Wars?

Trade-wars are proof of poor quality exportability, poor skills and poor policies, but skills-wars are about creating highly skilled citizenry creating superior edge of exportability and blossoming local grassroots prosperity. Nations should avoid blaming, screaming and declaring trade-wars on other countries and rather first look inside and declare internal skills-wars on their own working-citizenry to improve their performance and capability to stand up to global age trading challenges. In the race of exportability performance, no nation can escape internal skills-wars, to face the challenges of creating local grassroots prosperity no national leadership can escape the ballot boxes, its simple win with skilled citizens and change the tune to build own nation. So, what are the new challenges and what’s holding back?

Why Discover The Art of Incompetency?

In a hyper-accelerated supercharged world, understanding and measuring incompetency of working masses is a brand new art; identification of this critical void with right contents to fix the crisis of exportability is a new science, the mobilization of working-citizenry to regain new skills is courageous deployment and bold national debates to openly face these challenges is global-age example of successful political leadership. This reality is also about those hidden but well-trodden crossroads; where universities of the world failed the students, ask millions of indebted MBAs, this is where government bureaucracies failed the citizenry, ask billions of SME taxpayers, and this is where conflict-centric agenda stripped naked the global populace of any intelligent dialogue and this is also where divisive politics and populist thinking are finding fertile grounds. Every minute of the day, around the clock, on the main-streets of the world streaming live to billions such failed procedures and outdated incompetency laced business processes or political rhetoric are now openly visible, what the working citizenry needs are revival of new global-age skills before turning them into restless mobs.

During ‘ The Print-Society’ of early last century, when printed word was power and when only the literate had access to knowledge while any meaningful transformation took decades, today the literate and illiterate of the world combined in billions, with earth shattering communication devices in their hands are advancing and asking questions. The global mindshare is now the world’s most powerful battlefield. Therefore, today, the internal wars to tackle incompetency of citizenry are far more important issues than any other types of outside wars. Such declarations of internal wars are positive starts backed with world-class thought leadership, regimented and disciplined national agenda to transform citizenry with global-age-skills for the new world of global commerce.

Systematically abandoned, the small-midsize-enterprises of the world, the elimination of lifelong learning to keep pace with technology and future job-securities of the working masses of the world only resulted in insecurity, fear and lack of confidence and finally brought the rejection of globalization.

The global exportability performance is more about global-age-skilled-nations with distinct superiority of entrepreneurial performance over seek-and-destroy-soldiered-nations. Today, laborious and routine-works are being replaced by smart-work; smart-work is being replaced by smarter-machines. The Masters of Robots will be the smart unlearners, while the Slaves of Robots will be the deniers of change. In global search for collaborative synthesizim, Expothon Worldwide is seeking alliances to downstream high quality debates and discussion with top leadership within a nation and inviting experts in various business growth fields to join the platform already aligned with this global exportability driven metamorphosis. The recent move last month by Worldbank to adopt this very format with their launch of Econothon a global project is also a very good step forward. Expect some major and positive events in this arena to bring global thinking forward.

The world is undergoing mega changes.
Nations are already flooded with massive innovations but lack massive commercialization. They have an overabundance certifications and degrees but seriously lack entrepreneurial direction. Nations have empty incubators and exhausted accelerators looking for real estate tenants. Nations have economic development programs but often without reality punch. Nations have trade groups like Chambers and Trade associations bodies that are stuck in the last century’s models and are collapsing in this new global age. Nations have unlimited resources and technologies but lack execution and understanding. It’s all there, but trapped in old cycles and old methodologies.

Why Answering Global-Age Demands?

At the dawn of E-commerce; switching from industrialization to computerization were not new-funding dependent issues; it demanded clear understanding and memorization of what was once called ‘hardware’ and what was ‘software’ the rest was all about on job-learning to adopt and swim in deep new technologies…most were almost free. We are at the same junction today and in desperate need to mobilize hidden entrepreneurial talents of the citizenry and bring them closer to existing SME base.

Three steps to advance on grassroots prosperity

1-Identify 1000 to 10,000 or 1,000,000 small and midsize entrepreneurs within a nation, and create a national agenda to quadruple their performance on innovative excellence and exportability. Caution; this is not to be confused with old out-dated-dysfunctional-government-data rather assembly of ultra-modern-digital and current-profiles of midsize enterprises within a nation. These are advance level mobilization and deployments laced with Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Block Chain and freely available technologies to smart enterprises and agile nations of the world.

2-Deploy massive digitization of top national trade associations and chambers of commerce to upgrade to world-class digital platforms so that their entire membership can skate nationally and globally showcasing their goods and services. Caution; this is not to be confused with already broken and disconnected websites from last decade, this is more like LinkedIn format colorful and highly interactive platforms

3-Engage the national entrepreneurial talent, 1000-10,000- or 1,000,000 small and midsize businesses in ongoing discussions and high quality entrepreneurial debates and create global bounce. Caution; this is not to be confused with a single plastic award night, this is about the remaining 364 days of the year filled with active and daily engagements.

Why the critical lack of knowledge?

Fact: The world can easily absorb unlimited exportable ideas in unlimited vertical markets.
Fact: The well-designed innovative ideas are worthy of such quadrupled volumes.
Fact: The entrepreneurial and dormant talents of a nation are capable of such tasks.
Fact: The new global age skills, knowledge and execution are now the missing links


Some 10,000 Chambers of Commerce of the world are sorting out trade wars and trade disputes but not the new global age demands of global marketplace for their own memberships while some 100,000 National Trade Associations of the world are mostly stuck in last century when it comes to advanced level digital platforms and are afraid about their future roles and return on investment on membership fees. They all will shine under new flags of creating new global bounce and prosperity.

Public Sectors of the world are mostly grossly under-optimized on their own hidden talents, seriously afraid of entrepreneurialism and without global-age skills or innovative ideas how to tame an elephant. They will become confident, highly optimized and fearless, and will contribute freely to new ideas and prosper.

The small and mid-size enterprises all over the new and old world, though in critical need of global age expertise, are already in boiling pot and do not have the time, finances or the luxury to intellectualize such issues. They have already lost faith in their local support but will rejuvenate with joy and become the number one source of new job creation within a nation.

Blaming other countries, the political gatekeepers of the world are mostly busy showing off their latest Teleprompters so will they get public attention, votes and most needed respect or they need brand bold direction. The overflow of free technologies, progressive local, national and global solutions are grossly misunderstood and least optimized areas. This is an ocean in need swimmers and scuba-divers. 

Why it’s time to re-think?

Most nations already have extraordinary wealth in hidden assets;
Natural resources; mostly unearthed, and underutilized.
Human resources; untapped and abandoned,
Cultural and historic features; caught in divisive conflicts
National intelligencia and knowledge; developed over millennia now isolated or outcast
All these tossed around under the dead weight of populace politics and massive incompetence.
The lack of collaborative synthesizim is already destroying half of the world’s talents.

It’s all about global age skills of the citizenry and not the armies; as armies cannot feed the citizenry.
It’s about special thinking to figure out how to uplift national skills under entrepreneurialism

Firstly, create an authoritative discussion on these topic, escalate it to top national leadership,
Secondly, create a forum focused on new blueprints and clearly put aside the funding issues,
Thirdly, concentrate on the sleepy and dormant talents and venues collecting dust within the nation.
Final results; national mobilization of entrepreneurialism under a formal agenda

What’s your recommendation and how can you help your nation?

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Economy

New economic strategy of Armenia: What it offers and misses

Orkhan Baghirov

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Karabakh clan or Kocharyan and Sargsyan governments were able to protect itself from domestic pressure using victory in war in Nagorno-Karabakh and control over it as a  source of legitimization. With this strategy they were able to eliminate people’s discontent on economic and social problems.

According to 2016 data Armenia’s annual emigration rate was 4-5% of the whole population which were the highest in the world. Average monthly pension at the time was $90 and 20% of children under five years had health problems because of undernourishment (Opendemocracy, 2016). Along with these problems illegalities and high level of corruption made economic condition in the country even worst.

However, after the “Four-Day War” in 2016 in which Azerbaijan was able to return some strategic heights along the front, legitimacy of Sargsyan government came under the question. According to Armenian side during the war their military’s casualties reached 64 military servicemen, 13 reservists and more than 120 wounded (civilnet.am, 2 April). The  obvious superiority of  Azerbaijan army in the war de-stabilized political situation in Armenia forming base for “Velvet revolution” of 2018 that lead to change in government.

With the existence of escalated security concerns and constitutional change in 2015, that had to allow Sargsyan to serve as Prime Minister in the new system, population did not tolerated socio-economic problems any more and went to streets to carry out the coup ( hir.harvard.edu, 2018).

Despite good economic development indicators in 2017 (7.5% growth of GDP) Armenia still had high unemployment and undernourishment rates which was the result of high inequality (hkdepo.am, 2018). Along with political issues these significant social-economic problems also played important role in “Velvet revolution”.

After coming to power in order to solve economic problems Pashinyan’s new government introduced “revolutionary economic program” and adopted by Parliament in February of 2019without support of two opposition parties. Armenian government plans to eliminate extreme poverty by 2023, to increase exports to 43-45% of GDP by 2024 and achieve  economic growth at a rate of at least 5% annually(jam-news.net, February 15).

One of the provisions of the document was dedicated to formation of fair, transparent and free business environment. It this provision it was mentioned that one of the key factors impeding economic development is the existence of unfairness and impunity of a privileged class.

Program also puts high responsibility on Armenian citizens as the in discussions of the program  Pashinyan declared that effectiveness of this program will depend on how citizens will respond to our call and how many will take advantage of new of opportunities that  the revolutionary program proposes (eurasianet.org, February 15).

Despite purpose of revolutionize the economy addressing main economic problems document faced high criticism from different Armenian experts, politicians and activists. Most people criticize the document for not having concrete structure and steps and not outlining mechanisms and sufficient timelines to achieve proposed targets. During the parliament discussions some opposition politicians said that “Abstract concepts do not make an economic revolution” and citizens expect concrete actions which require political will, resistance, and knowledge (oc-media.org, March 2).

Another important criticism is about the approach of the government to put responsibility on citizens. It seems controversial that the people that fought for and elected new government will be responsible if the economic plan will not succeed. In the society where for many years responsibility of economic development and social security was mainly on the hands of government it is difficult to quickly adapt to new call of government. It is hard to imagine that without taking intermediate steps for making society and economic players ready for taking this responsibility the new economic plan will succeed.

New economic strategy also fails to address some of the main obstacles that businesses face in the country. First of all, high taxes prevents small businesses to operate efficiently and to compete with big businesses. Not coincidentally, during the parliament discussions of new economic strategy prime minister of Armenia asked businesses to print cash receipts in order to prevent formation of shadow economy (Arka.am, June 6). If all cash receipts will be printed then it will left most of small businesses without substantial earnings damaging business environment. It is better to decrease taxes before asking and expecting businesses to print receipts for all transactions.

Second unaddressed obstacle for businesses in Armenia is high interest rates of loans that play important role in financing businesses. Without providing necessary financial availability for small businesses it is meaningless to discuss any favorable business environment.

Taking in account that big businesses mostly belonged to Armenian oligarchs which have the opportunity to easily avoid high tax payments using their political power and are capable to pay loans with high interest rates new economic strategy mostly favors them (azatutyun.am, 2018). And within the existence of political problems in the country that threatens power of new government it is not realistic that government will go against these big businesses at least in short term.

Therefore, targets and directions determined in new “revolutionary economic program” are exaggerated and mostly serves for maintaining political stability in short term. If it will not meet expectations and determined targets in medium term it will create social discontent increasing pressure on new government. As the economic problems were one of the main drivers of “Velvet revolution” the effectiveness of new economic plan will play important role in securing political power of new government.

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